Mal Pugh will cringe when she sees the headline of this story. I know this because in the hour and a half we’ve been chatting at her apartment, she’s already cringed at least half a dozen times.
She squirms when I point out that she’s been anointed the savior/prodigy/future of soccer ever since the U.S. women’s national team discovered her at the age of 12. She shudders when I mention that I heard she was so good as a teenager, she had to practice with boys (a relatable response for anyone who’s ever been around high school boys). To be sure, Pugh is proud of what she’s accomplished—at 21, she’s notched 50 caps with the USWNT and will play a key role in the upcoming World Cup—but she’s never really liked being called a wunderkind, an ephemeral and cliché description for an athlete who has no intention of being either.
“I feel like it’s starting to go away, which I’m very thankful about—the age part,” she says, sitting up a little straighter on her kitchen stool.
And then I too cringe, because I know she’s probably wrong. It isn’t going away. Come June, when the USWNT begins its campaign in France, we’re going to see a lot of Mallory Pugh, and when we do, we’ll hear a lot about her age. It’s hard to ignore. Sitting across from her in the apartment she shares with two of her Washington Spirit teammates, I’m struck by how young